Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has unveiled plans for major reforms of the country's planning system.
The proposed changes included in the white paper are far reaching and aim to address planning applications predominantly at the two extremes of the planning scale. At the one end are small scale building projects, at the other are major building projects of national importance.
Large building projects such as additional airport runways, nuclear power stations and wind farms can presently take years to gain approval and are often shrouded in beurocracy. The proposal aims to reduce time delays and red tape with politicians staging a national debate about large projects that are likely to have a benefit to the economy as a whole. An independant commission would then decide if the project should proceed and where it should be located.
The other main aim is to simplify the local planning system for householders wishing to make minor improvements which are likely to have little or no impact on neighbours. These projects would no longer require a planning application but an impact test may be required to assess the likely effect on neighbours and the surrounding environment. This is likely to make it much easier for householders to install small scale renewable energy systems such as wind turbines and solar panels as well as more traditional improvements such as loft conversions.
There is some concern that the voice of the local community, particularly with the larger scale projects, may no longer be heard in the planning process. Unfortunately we will not truly now how democratic the process will be until it is up and running.
Let's hope that the relaxation of the rules surrounding small scale development will encourage sensible investment in good renewable energy systems.
The planned changes at the other end of the scale may be a bit of a double edged sword. If it aids the development of efficient, well located wind farms that's great, however I am not sure I could roll over and comply if it was deemed to be for the good of the nation to have a nuclear power station in my back yard!